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First Foreign Rice, From Australia, Goes on Sale in Japan

September 7, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ Australia is making the latest push to open Japanese markets wider to foreign products _ one grain at a time.

Japan’s ban on foreign rice ended under a trade accord that went into effect last year, and on Thursday, Australian rice became the first grown outside the country to be sold in Japanese supermarkets.

Curious shoppers stopped to check out the bags decorated with a smiling cartoon kangaroo and try a sample. Australian growers developed a special brand to appeal to Japanese tastes, and stores were offering it at a discount compared to domestic brands _ at least initially.

``It has a nice sweetness and stickiness,″ said shopper Setsuko Tsuchiya, approving of the price and the taste. ``I like Japanese rice, but it’s nice to be able to find a new kind which is good but also cheap.″

For years, Japan protected domestic rice growers, insisting on self-sufficiency in its staple food. But a disastrous harvest in 1993 forced Japan to import 2 million tons of rice from the United States, Australia, China and Thailand.

While American and Australian rice sold well, the Thai rice was so unpopular that officials were forced to give away much of it either as livestock feed or as emergency aid to impoverished North Korea.

But an accord reached under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade called for Japan to import about 400,000 tons of foreign rice in the current fiscal year, which ends next March. Japan’s annual quota will increase to 800,000 tons by 2000.

Australia, with its opposite seasons, hopes to ship its new harvest when there is no domestic competition. Newly harvested rice is very popular in Japan, and sells for premium prices.

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